I’m always grateful when our neighbor Paul Lawlor gives us his grass clippings after he mows his lawn. They are rich in nitrogen and are a great substitute for manure in making compost, especially when used fresh. The compost then provides a rich environment for our vegetables to grow in.
But this week Paul brought us two trailer-loads of grass clippings, including some from his son’s house. After gulping and saying our thanks, we scratched our heads and tried to figure out what to do with this windfall. We examined the clippings and noted the presence of some weeds, so we knew this lawn had not been sprayed with chemicals, which can survive the composting process and kill your vegetables the next year.
First, I emptied out one of our two Earth Machines, which are black plastic bins designed for making compost. The contents included a mixture of last year’s leaves and kitchen waste. I took them in a wheelbarrow to a larger, circular enclosure that’s 3.5 feet in diameter and 2.5 feet tall (shown at right). I layered them with grass clippings and leaves, and with sprinklings of dirt and water. After a few days, the compost thermometer registered 135 degrees, indicating that the process was working and any weed seeds or pathogens were being killed.
Then I filled up the emptied-out Earth Machine the same way, using leaves and kitchen waste that had been fermenting in the other Earth Machine. That registered 110 degrees today. It’s lower than the other because it is more recently made and smaller in volume.
But I still had two big piles of grass clippings left! I didn’t want to use the other now-empty Earth Machine, because we need a place to put our fall and winter kitchen waste. What to do?
I created a new compost pile adjacent to my woodpile. I carted over cinder blocks to create an enclosure, then layered all the remaining grass clippings with more of last year’s leaves. (I noticed that wet leaves work better in compost, and considered leaving openings in the plastic bags this fall.) I added dirt and sprinkled water on it, then covered it up. The whole process took about an hour, and the result is shown in the photo at the top.
This is the first time I’ve made compost without any kitchen waste, which I’ve always had in abundance. I’ve heard kitchen waste described as the “kindling” of a compost pile, so I’ll be interested to see if this pile heats up as much as the others.
Gardening, like simple living, is a constant experiment!